Playing next to Tiger Woods for two days was daunting enough. It was when Steve Stricker watched him from 200 yards away on an elevated tee that he realized how tough it would be to beat him Sunday in the BMW Championship.
He arrived on the par-3 12th tee in time to see Woods, in his customary black pants and red shirt, rap a putt that traveled from one side of the green to the other until the ball disappeared after a 50-foot journey and gave Woods an unlikely birdie.
"It looked like he looked back to make sure that we were watching him make birdie,'' Stricker said.
Not so, Woods replied.
"I didn't do a Sergio,'' Woods said with a smile, referring to when Sergio Garcia stared him down at nearby Medinah eight years ago in a fruitless chase at the PGA Championship.
Woods only cared about making birdies, and he got enough of them at Cog Hill to close with an 8-under 63 for a two-shot victory over Aaron Baddeley. Along the way, Woods shattered the tournament scoring record, collected his 60th career victory on the PGA Tour and moved atop the standings in the FedEx Cup with one week remaining.
"If you wanted to win this tournament, you had to make putts,'' Woods said. "And I just happened to make them today.''
The 63 matched Woods' lowest final round to win, and he finished at 22-under 262 to break by five shots the 72-hole record at Cog Hill first set by Scott Hoch in 2001 and matched by Woods two years later.
And while his 60th tour victory surprised him, the amazement wore off when he was reminded that it was only 13 months ago at the Buick Open that everyone made a fuss out of Woods winning No. 50.
Baddeley gave him a good chase until he ran out of birdies on the back nine and settled for a 66. Stricker was tied for the lead until his 3-iron clipped a tree and came up well short on the 12th, leading to a bogey no one could afford. He wound up with a 68 to finish alone in third, enough for him to move up to No. 2 in the FedEx Cup standings.
"There isn't a lot you can do,'' Stricker said. "I would have had to shoot 63 today to beat him. When you see him ahead of us making the birdies and hearing the roars, you know that he's on a roll and not making many mistakes. It's tough.''
It also might be tough to catch him in the FedEx Cup, which concludes next week at the Tour Championship.
Woods goes to East Lake in Atlanta with a 3,133-point lead over Stricker and a 4,120-point margin over Phil Mickelson, who decided not to play this week.
Mickelson, the Deutsche Bank Championship winner Monday, will have to win to have any hopes of capturing the FedEx Cup and the $10 million prize. If Stricker does not win at East Lake, Woods could win the cup by finishing second.
Only two other players - Rory Sabbatini and K.J. Choi - have a mathematical chance.
"Winning takes care of everything,'' Woods said, whose best is a runner-up at East Lake.
All that mattered at the moment was winning at Cog Hill for the fourth time. It was Woods' sixth victory of the year, and the $1.26 million pushed him over $9 million for the fourth time in his career.
The biggest mystery about the Tour Championship is the course on which they play.
The tour left a two-page notice on players' lockers Sunday morning saying that record heat has severely damaged the greens at East Lake, forcing officials to cancel the pro-am round Wednesday and ban players from so much as setting foot on the greens until the first round on Thursday.
Stewart Cink, Tim Clark and Camilo Villegas all finished in the top 10 and earned enough points to move into the top 30 in the playoff standings and qualify for the Tour Championship.
The 30th spot went to British Open champion Padraig Harrington, who took this week off to recharge and was prepared to play a European tour event if he got bumped out. Luke Donald tried to recover from a 76 in the opening round, but his bogey-free 65 on Sunday left him two shots away from the points he needed to finish 30th.
Also getting knocked out of the top 30 were Jerry Kelly and Aaron Oberholser, who withdrew with hand and wrist injuries and said he would not have been able to play the Tour Championship even if he had made it.
It was the third straight week of compelling golf, a three-man race at sunny Cog Hill that was up for grabs until Wood seized control with his 50-foot birdie on the 12th, and a 20-foot birdie on the 16th that swirled around the cup before falling.
"When he made that putt across the par 3, suddenly you could just see he was into another gear,'' said Justin Rose, who played with Woods in the final round. "His focus was at a different level.''
With his wife, Elin, following along outside the ropes, Woods ran off three straight birdies at the turn to shoot 32, but all that did was help him keep pace with Stricker and Baddeley.
Stricker, the hometown favorite who played at Illinois and grew up across the border in Wisconsin, made four straight birdies through the 10th hole to become the first to reach 19 under, giving him a one-shot lead over Baddeley.
Baddeley caught him on the 11th with a long bunker shot over a crook in the green to 6 feet for birdie.
Woods was in the group ahead and losing steam. He had to work for par on the easy 10th, and he had to settle for par when his chip from right of the green on the par-5 11th ran 15 feet away. His tee shot on the par-3 12th wasn't much better, and Woods hung his head and walked toward the green as it was still in flight.
But on a day of wild cheers, the loudest came on his 50-foot putt that dropped for birdie. He followed that with a 12-foot birdie on the next hole for a lead he never surrendered.
Woods also shot 63 in the final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship last year. And while he is known as the best closer in golf, it was his fourth victory this year when starting the final round from behind.
Woods has won six times in the Chicago area - four at Cog Hill, two in the PGA Championship at Medinah. The only place where he has had more victories is the San Diego area, where he has won eight times.
-22 T Woods (US)
-20 A Baddeley (Aus)
-18 S Stricker (US)
-14 A Scott (Aus)
-13 J Rose (Eng), T Clark (SA)
-9 I Poulter (Eng), R Sabbatini (SA)
-8 J Furyk (US)
-7 E Els (SA)